Imagine a mother unwillingly poisoning her infant child, a couple going quietly to bed after having celebrated 50 years of marriage and never waking up again, a man suffering brain injuries causing memory loss while sitting quietly in his living room.
All of these things have happened, in silence, with no explosions or accidents, no signs of toxicity in the air. And they can all be attributed to one culprit: unsafe keyless ignition.
Today, people are getting killed by a deadly enemy that emanates from their cars, as they are parked in their garages.
According to a recent New York Times investigation, there have been at least 28 keyless ignition-related deaths and 45 injuries in the U.S. over the last 12 years.
The NHTSA’s safety concerns include,
“Drivers who shut off the engine without putting their vehicle in ‘park’ and walk away from the vehicle, leaving it prone to roll away; drivers who do put their vehicles in park, but inadvertently leave the engine active, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed environment; and drivers who do not know how to shut down the engine of their vehicle in the event of any on-road emergency.”
Companies often weigh the cost of fixing problems and compare it to the potential cost of settling a predictable number of wrongful death lawsuits. In the case of keyless ignitions, the NHTSA reports that fixing the problem would be a convenient move for car companies, even when following this sinister logic.
Yet, people are still dying.
Carbon monoxide is a silent enemy. If you accidentally leave your keyless car’s engine running, you will not smell, hear, or feel anything unusual until it is too late. In the face of an imminent tragedy, a reasonable warning system to alert you that the engine is active could save lives, yet not all car manufacturers are ready to introduce this simple safety features.
As long as the changes are not required by law, companies seem reluctant to implement them, and people keep dying. As far back as 2011, the NHTSA proposed a rule requiring, “that an audible warning be given to any driver who: Attempts to shut down the propulsion system without first moving the gear selection control to the “park” position (for vehicles with a “park” position); exits a vehicle without having first moved the gear selection control to “park” (for vehicles with a “park” position), or exits a vehicle without first turning off the propulsion system.”
The case of Constance Petot warns us that adding a beep warning is not necessarily enough. While she owned a car that possessed such a feature, she didn´t hear the sound and her son’s life was endangered as a result. In fact, car manufacturers need to work to eliminate such risks altogether.
While the automotive industry lobbies to kill this type of rule proposals, people keep dying. The people who survive often suffer from crippling conditions. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can suffer irreversible damage.
In 2016, News4Jax performed an experiment to see just how deadly an unsafe keyless ignition vehicle could be.
An SUV was placed behind a plexiglass door while firefighters monitored carbon monoxide levels. Half an hour later, the levels observed were lethal. The experiment had to be stopped after only an hour, because it was too risky to continue on account of the speed at which the carbon monoxide concentration was climbing.
The first responders had to use oxygen tanks to enter the garage and shut off the engine.
Although there have been some changes in the technology since then, the fact that we are still seeing cases of death and injury in 2018 is a clear indication that stricter regulations are needed to protect Americans from the ‘side effects’ of a technology that shouldn’t be deadly, but, in many cases, still is.
A PARTIAL CHRONOLOGY OF WELL-DOCUMENTED CASES
Carbon monoxide death and poisonings in the U.S. involving keyless ignition cars.
- March 2018, Jacksonville, FL: Jean Mertens (88) dead September 2015, Boynton Beach, FL: Mona Sternbach (84) dead
- June 2015, Highland Park, IL: Pasquale Fontanini (79) dead and Rina Fontanini (76) dead
- March 2015, Mooresville, NC: Luz Lasso (53) injured and Jesus Bedoya Salazar (59) injured; Luz Bedoya (34) poisoned
- April 2014, Weymouth, MA: B.D. Nayak (70) and Leela Nayak (70) injured; two grandchildren (7 and 10) poisoned
- February 2014, Destin, FL: Constance Petot (35) injured and Parker Petot (1) poisoned
- November 2013, Lancaster, PA: Darryl Morton (50) dead and Aida Cora (54) dead
- June 2013, Greenville, SC: Bill Thomason (76) dead and Eugenia Thomason (71) dead
- March 2012, Boca Raton, FL: Mort Victor (79) dead and Adele Ridless (69) dead
- March 2012, Davidson, NC: Ray Harrington (62) dead
- December 2011, Rockville, MD: Harry Pitt (81), dead
- December 2010, Boynton Beach, FL: Meyer Yaffe (81), dead
- August 2010, Boca Raton, FL: Chasity Glisson (29) dead and Tim Maddock (40) poisoned
- February 2009, Queens, NY: Ernest Cordelia (79) dead and Mary Rivera (69) poisoned
John Uustal is a Florida-based injury and wrongful death with a national practice. His precedent setting jury verdicts against GM and other automakers exposing known-defects and holding them accountable on behalf of victims and families have led to major safety innovations in the auto industry.